Two of the stanzas in the hymn “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” end with the phrase “When half spent was the night.” Later we will sing “Silent Night”. Another favorite Christmas carol is “O Holy Night”. A forgotten German Christmas carol begins “Behold, behold, what wonder’s here! The gloomy night turns bright and clear”. Do you get the theme? The birth of Jesus and night time goes hand-in-hand. People flock to church, sometimes at a very late hour, in order to welcome Jesus anew into the world.
Why did our Savior want to be born at night? The smart money is on a birth in broad daylight in an easily recognized place. Instead Jesus is born at night in a small town far from where His earthly parents live. His birth is noted by shepherds who leave their flocks to see this thing that has happened. Angels announce His birth and a star leads those who seek Him to the place of His birth. All these things happen at night, not in broad daylight.
The world is in darkness without Jesus. The world lies in the darkness of ignorance about His birth, just as many were ignorant of His birth in those days. The Jewish people knew that one sent from God would come to them in the fullness of time. What some did not realize is that the fullness of time was not determined by their convenience. They have no control over when Messiah appeared.
As it was then, so it remains now. The world lies in darkness of ignorance. For some the ignorance is real. There are those who know nothing about Jesus and His miraculous birth, not to mention His perfect life, innocent death, and glorious resurrection from the dead. For many others the ignorance is self-manufactured. Many want to know nothing about Jesus. They are happy to celebrate Christmas as a family holiday of giving presents and being with family, but you could do that practically any day of the year. The birth of the Savior of the Jew and Gentile is an inconvenient truth. His birth gets in the way of revelry, or perhaps triggers bad memories of Christmases past that don’t need to be replayed.
The world also walks in the darkness that Isaiah foretells in the Old Testament reading. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. They see a great light, but the light shines too bright on their sin. It’s better to dwell in deep darkness than admit a light needs to shine on their sin in order for Jesus to take that sin away. Outside of Christ there is only eternal darkness, not only now, but also forever. The darkness of death brought about by sin remains. Eternal darkness is your only hope when there is no Savior.
Eternal darkness is shattered by the Light of the Savior. The yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. Your burden is light, for Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, bears that burden for you. He becomes flesh and dwells among us to bear the burden of sin and death for us. He bears it all the way to the cross and out of the tomb. He is forsaken by His Father in order that the Father does not forsake you.
The Holy Spirit working through the Word of the Father proclaims this truth to you, especially tonight as we rejoice in Messiah’s birth. In Christ alone, the Anointed One from the Father, do you obtain the light of saving knowledge. To know Jesus is to know the Father. To know the Father is to know His love for you. His love for you is to send His Son to suffer and die for your sake, and to rise from the dead triumphant over death so that you live with Him forever. That is the light of saving knowledge, for that is why Christ becomes man for you.
Saint John writes in his first epistle, if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. Sounds more like a Good Friday message than a Christmas message, don’t it. That’s the point. You can’t separate Christmas from Good Friday, just as you can’t separate Easter from Good Friday. Even tonight and tomorrow prepares you for the reason Jesus is born a man. He comes to sit upon His throne: the throne of the cross. He comes to suffer humiliation, even being forsaken by His own Father in heaven. Through His passion and death you have forgiveness of sins. You have a good conscience. You have reconciliation with your heavenly Father. He sees you guiltless in the guilty Lamb of God.
No wonder angels sing. No wonder a star shines in the darkness. No wonder Mary ponders everything that happens and treasures them in her heart. The Savior of the Nations, long foretold by prophets and patriarchs, has come to His people as a man born of woman, born under the Law, in order to fulfill the Law for us and redeem us from death, hell, and sin. The gloomy night turns bright and clear when you behold Who lays in the manger. Jesus lays there for you.
Come, then, banish all your sadness!
One and all,
Great and small,
Come with songs of gladness.
We shall live with Him forever
There on high
In that joy
Which will vanish never. (LSB 360:6)